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Nursery decorating: 18 things I wish I'd known

In the 26 weeks I've been pregnant, I've learned a thing or two.

For example, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an acceptable meal for breakfast, lunch, dinner and second dinner. I've discovered the "Snotsucker" is a real product that apparently I have to invest in. And I've learned my husband and I have about 10,000 decisions to make when it comes to getting our apartment ready before our baby girl arrives this July.

Should I get a bassinet for my newborn in addition to the crib? Where should the changing table go to best facilitate my exhausted self in the middle of the night? And days ago, when a friend asked me what my nursery theme was, I realized I don't really have one. But if I had to describe it, it would be "small baby stuff meets even smaller apartment."

Now, I'm not the only mama-to-be searching for answers. Fortunately, several of my co-workers are parents and are dishing out their helpful tips — easing my stress as we inch closer to that looming due date.

So from us to you, here's what TODAY parents wish they'd known before decorating their nurseries:

Meena Hart Duerson

1. Make sure everything you could possibly need is within easy reach of the changing table.

Think of diapers, wipes, more wipes, changing table covers, laundry hamper, poop bucket (i.e. your diaper disposal system), burp cloths, a pacifier, etc. The last thing you want to do is step away from the baby and risk him rolling off because you need to grab something clean to slide under his butt post-poop explosion. -Meena Hart Duerson, TODAY.com managing lifestyle editor

RELATED: 10 things I wish I'd known about raising a boy

2. Avoid clutter.

You'll be carrying a baby back and forth in the middle of the night and a misplaced chair (or playmat, toy, book, etc.) can be brutal to trip over when you're not expecting it. On this note, make sure you have lots of functional storage space so you have easy places to tuck things when you're done using them, instead of leaving them scattered on the floor. -Meena

3. Two words: washable wallpaper.

You'll be thankful when that first pee spray hits the wall. -Meena

Meena Hart Duerson
Meena Hart Duerson's 3-month-old son, Bear.

4. Don't be afraid of the dark.

Make sure the lighting in your nursery can mimic nighttime anytime. That means a heavy enough curtain or window shade (some people recommend blackout shades) to fake the dark when it's time for a nap during the day. We installed a very cute window shade only to realize a few months in when we started to use the crib for naps that the shade barely blocks any daylight. And babies are no dummies! Ours thinks bright light means party time and he doesn't want to be left out of whatever fun is being had, so he strains to stay awake even if he's cranky. But he knows that darkness means bedtime, and his eyes get droopy when the lights go out. You don't have to make your nursery a dungeon, but give yourself the option to fake it and you'll all rest easier. -Meena

5. You can make any light a nightlight.

Just buy "nightlight" bulbs at the hardware store and transform your favorite lamp into decor for your baby's room. -Meena

Samantha Okazaki
Lauren Sullivan and her blue-eyed son, Sully.

6. You will care — eventually.

I never had the nesting urges the (many) pregnancy books assured me I would. Living in limited Brooklyn square footage, I thought giving our little guy a room to himself was preparation enough. I mean, we upgraded to a two-bedroom just for him! But after Sullivan arrived, I suddenly felt that urge — and I wasn’t too late! -Lauren Sullivan, TODAY.com senior editor

RELATED: 4 things I wish I knew before having twins

7. Pick a theme.

I found one piece I loved (this felt airplane mobile from a baby shop around the corner from our apartment) and went from there with a travel theme. We discovered a world map wall decal for over his (mini) crib and saw adorable baby animal portraits to hang alongside it. On the opposite wall we have black-and-white photos of Paris street art that one of our dearest friends got us for our wedding. Now the space feels like us as a couple — and what we want to instill in our little Sully: a sense of travel and exploration! You know, with baby tigers. -Lauren

8. A mini crib is a crib.

We were very anxious BS (Before Sully) that we wouldn’t have enough room to fit all of his (apparently necessary) stuff. But after someone told me about the mini crib’s existence, I was assured by a trusted source that “in Europe, what Americans call a ‘mini crib’ is just a crib.” And it’s true! Not only is it perfect for a smaller nursery, but it folds down easily if you want to move it into your room — like when your little one’s a newborn. We’re holding onto this compact gem until Sully’s ready for a real bed. -Lauren

9. The art makes the difference.

For us, framed prints that weren’t themed or particularly babyish, but are whimsical/colorful and otherwise interesting have aligned with all of our tastes and have held up to five years of changes, including several room swaps. One tip here: Framed, printed fabric swatches were an inexpensive craft-fair find (think Etsy vendors) that are unique and the girls love. -Carissa Ray, TODAY.com supervising multimedia producer

Christopher D. Ray
Colorful art above Carissa Ray's 1-year-old daughter's bed has stood the test of time, some of it from her 4-year-old older sister's nursery that was added to and rehung to suit the style of their shared room and make sure both siblings were represented.

10. Incorporate touches from people who love them.

We live away from most of our friends and family, but we all love elements that bring our loved ones into the girls’ room. I’m not suggesting that every antique relic that someone bestows upon you needs to make the cut, but from those who know you and your taste, incorporating them into the décor can add even more warmth and love into the space.

Christopher D. Ray
When Carissa planned her first child's nursery in Seattle, she picked up several screen-printed fabric swatches at a fair that have been displayed in her children's rooms.

Some examples:

  • Knowing that my original nursery idea (before we tore everything up and moved more than 2,800 miles away) incorporated nocturnal animals, my husband’s grandmother gave us a hand-painted owl night light that her mother had made, and my husband and his dad had used as children.
  • My best friend made an adorable string of pennants made from scrap-booking paper for my baby shower décor that worked perfectly in the nursery, and has lasted through the toddler years. Guests at the shower also made little owls out of felt and Styrofoam, and two of the cutest ones are still on a shelf in the girls’ room.
  • Some of my and my sister’s toys and cherished “artifacts” I held onto in a little “treasure box” that fit the room décor became a special treat for the girls to explore when they got old enough, and now some random little "Star Wars" toys are prominently displayed on a shelf (and get played with / fought over too) — thank goodness Princess Leia is still all the rage!
  • Being remote, even when Reilly was teeny, we made sure to have a framed photo of her with each of her sets of grandparents in the room. Now we also have a bigger collage prominently displayed that has photos of all the girls’ grandparents and great-grandparents, which has become a reference point for all of the stories we tell them about their family. -Carissa

11. Gray is your friend.

Lisa Tolin
Lisa Tolin's decision to have a white chair and white rug in her nursery is one she would not repeat.

That white upholstered glider chair that looks so sweet now will be stained a dingy taupe in a few years. Choose something that’s easy to wipe off, has a cover you can replace or hides stains. They are inevitable. -Lisa Tolin, TODAY.com special projects editor

RELATED: Get inspired! 11 beautiful shared kids rooms from Pinterest

12. Skip the crib sets.

Lisa Tolin
Lisa Tolin's son didn't have a crib set and he's just fine!

Adorable crib bumpers are a hazard to your child, and you shouldn’t have a blanket or other bedding in the crib for the first year. Don’t worry, the crib will look super cute with a fitted sheet — because your baby will be in it. -Lisa

13. You don’t have to surround your child with gender stereotypes.

Lisa Tolin
Lisa Tolin's son's fitted sheet is lavender and he doesn't care one bit.

When I told my family I was painting my boy’s nursery lavender, they teased me. But just as girls don’t need a shove into princess-land, boys don’t need to be surrounded by basketballs and camouflage. They’re all just babies. Their interests will include milk, ceiling fans and electrical outlets. The paint on the walls is mostly for you. -Lisa

14. Baby stuff doesn’t have to stay in the nursery.

You can often find relatively inexpensive, stylish versions of dressers, lamps, storage bins, art or mirrors in children’s stores like Land of Nod, Giggle or Pottery Barn Kids. My coffee table doubles as a play table. A friend uses this adjustable play table at its low level with her kids, then raises it for dinner parties. -Lisa

15. Don't hold back.

It you want to go cutesy, this is the time to do it. Remember a few years back when bird motifs were trendy and you couldn't throw a teething ring without hitting a cutesy owl print? Yeah, I LOVED that stuff. And I hesitated before going to town with the birds and woodland creatures in my son's nursery. Would it mesh with his personality? Was it too baby-ish? Newsflash: HE WAS A BABY. He didn't care, as long as the milk train (me) was on time. But my little woodland creature nursery made me happy, and I'm glad I did it, because now that he's reached the ripe old age of 6, the only permissible decor themes are New York Mets and "Star Wars." They're only babies for a little bit, so enjoy that precious time while they can't complain about your choices in decor. (See also: Why you should dress your baby up for Halloween.)

Various design blogs promise that your baby will sleep better with a soothing color like blue or lavender on the walls. Lies, I tell you, LIES! Millions of parents who have spent many a sleepless night in a soothing lavender-blue nursery will back me up here. Your baby will sleep through the night when he or she is ready, and you're going to spend a lot of time staring at those walls in the meantime, so you might as well decorate them exactly as you like. -Rebecca Dube, head of TODAY Parents

Pinned on Pinterest.

RELATED: 11 boy nursery ideas from Pinterest

16. Babies don't need much room.

Babies take up very little space, yet the pressure can be on to give your kid's nursery an HGTV overhaul. After your nosy relatives ask you if you're finding out the gender or if you've picked out names, chances are, they'll say, "And, how are you decorating the nursery?" But here's the truth: Babies don't need much room.

When my first child was born, we lived in an 11-foot-wide home and I felt intense mommy guilt because his nursery was actually a room divided with a bookcase to be my office and his nursery combined. When I think back on it now, the space was so sweet and cozy, and I have such great memories of snuggling my newborn baby boy in that tiny half room. -Terri Peters, TODAY Parents editor

17. Babies don't care what the nursery looks like.

While nursery decor may be fun to plan, don't beat yourself up if you don't get those monogrammed letters or nautical wallpaper hung up in time. And, if you don't have the space for that elaborate, hand-carved crib, know that you'll be keeping baby in a bassinet in your room for quite a while, and that she'll be happier there anyway. -Terri

18. Don’t decorate with too much gusto.

Stories abound of pregnant women being overtaken by powerful nesting instincts shortly before they go into labor. These women organize closets, clean out cupboards, rearrange entire garages and more. I was one of those women — and my area of relentless focus was my son’s nursery. I hadn’t had time to decorate yet and it was driving me batty.

Consumed one day with a sense of extreme and sudden urgency, I found myself moving furniture, hanging pictures and kneeling on the ground to build storage drawers...and then, within a few hours, I went into early labor. I spent that night in the hospital and got sent home on strict bed rest, which lasted for six nerve-wracking, uncomfortable weeks.

Now, would my son have wanted to arrive early no matter what? Probably! But I always wonder whether my heave-ho, adrenaline-fueled furniture-moving escapade played a role. If I could do it over again, I’d still decorate with enthusiasm — but I’d delegate the most strenuous parts of the job! —Laura T. Coffey, TODAY Parents editor

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